State government term limits, a sharply divided electorate and unregulated campaign contributions have dramatically complicated the public policy making process at the local, state and federal government.
Local government leaders are impacted by changes in state and federal laws. State lawmakers in 15 states have term-limits which reformers hoped would launch a new breed of citizen lawmakers into public office. For the most part, these citizen lawmakers have not answered the call for joining state legislators—interrupting careers, time away from family and the chaos of politics are not appealing for many engaged community leaders who chose to serve through other means than elected office. Instead, state government term limits for legislators has created a revolving door where House and Senate members trade seats or legislators seek local or state elected office following their service in the Statehouse. The other challenging to enacting public policy is a sharply divided electorate. Both political parties response to a public divided nearly 50-50 on major issues of the day has not been to appeal to the “political middle” to sway the independents to their side but instead George W. Bush and Barack Obama figured out they could win major elections by driving up the turnout of their political base. Thus, elections may not be the answer to break political deadlocks but instead are opportunities for both parties to drive further away from compromise. Finally, the emergence of independent third party political campaigns that operate with unlimited and private donations have diminished the impact of political parties and elected officials to impact public policy at the polling places. Support or opposition of a well-funded organization can determine success or failure of major policy issues no matter the views of legislative leadership. Public opinion is the only remedy to stopping an interest group from driving an unpopular issue.
These three dynamic forces impact the development of public policy at all levels of government. Changes these political forces is a job above most individual’s paygrade. Instead, the business of lobbying for communities, corporations or other organizations is turning more and more to building political and public support at the community level for issues. If the voters believe an issue should be addressed, the politicians will likely follow. Lobbying has become more complicated as messaging, coalitions and relationships in the Statehouse still matter but maybe not quite as much as they used to. In addition to traditional lobbying strategies, public affairs advocacy programs are moving out of state capitols and into communities through a multi-pronged effort that is as much public relations as it is lobbying.
Grassroots public affairs programs typically are centered on the following tactics:
- Create a message and public relations platform to promote the importance of an issue based upon voter focus groups and public opinion surveys.
- Messengers. Recruit business and government leaders to support this policy position at the local level.
- Sharing the Message. Coordinate the promotion of the message through key stakeholders to voters through speakers bureaus, earned, social and paid media campaign
- Connecting with Public Officials. At the local level, business and government leaders and the voters themselves must be encouraged to connect with the public official to express support or opposition to specific issues.
Grassroots or community based advocacy has been used for years by utilities, labor unions, and other companies as a means to build political support for public policy issues. This old method of lobbying is getting more attention as the business of lobbying has become substantially more difficult to do.
For more information join the Montrose Group, a national public policy and economic development consulting firm, for a webinar to understand how local public affairs programs based upon lobbying and public relations can turn policy goals in to legislation, laws and regulations.